VOL. 133 | NO. 59 | Thursday, March 22, 2018
By Don Wade
The first career choice a child has in mind isn’t always the right one. Stephanie Butler, who today is the new executive director of the Children’s Museum of Memphis, thought she wanted to be a doctor.
Stephanie Butler, the new executive director of the Children’s Museum of Memphis, sees the facility as becoming a town hall of sorts for early childhood education.
(Daily News/Houston Cofield)
That all changed in 10th-grade biology class when it was time to dissect a fetal pig.
Butler fainted and when she came to, she was sure of one thing: She probably wouldn’t be able to get through medical school.
The kids who tour The Children’s Museum of Memphis (CMOM) have a lot of opportunity to imagine themselves as “big people” working a job, having a career, Butler says.
And it’s no coincidence that most of the exhibits that help them with their vision have corporate sponsors.
For those kids who think they might want to be doctors, there is the exhibit sponsored by Baptist Memorial Hospital where they can play “operation” and learn about how the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs function.
AutoZone Inc. and International Paper Co. sponsor exhibits, Kroger’s miniature grocery store is always a hit, and so is the “pearly white” dental area. Kids climb into a FedEx plane cockpit, sit in a sheriff’s office car, or climb aboard a fire truck and take a fire safety quiz.
“This is supposed to be a fun place of wonder and inspiration,” Butler said. “They may not be thinking, `I want a career in engineering,’ but they’re learning to put something together.”
Butler, 45, is charged with overseeing all aspects of the museum – everything from education, community relations, operations and development, to raising funds for the museum’s recent expansion, which includes the restored Memphis Grand Carousel.
She assumed her responsibilities March 5 and succeeds Dick Hackett, who retired from the museum in 2017.
Bridgette Speake, who is president of the board of trustees for the CMOM, said Butler stood out as a candidate for her “vision and business strengths.”
Said Speake: “We’ve hired the ultimate people person who can take on challenges, inspire the staff and supporters.”
The museum, which opened in 1990, employs 37 full and part-time employees and also utilizes a volunteer force, which helps in many ways including putting on the museum’s annual fundraiser.
Butler is a native Memphian who is a graduate of Rhodes College as well as Columbia Business School in New York (M.B.A.) and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. (MA).
Much of her career has focused on community service.
She has significant experience in family and corporate philanthropy and program development, with past leadership roles at organizations such as Hyde Family Foundation and FedEx Corp.
She joins the museum after serving as chief strategy officer at United Way of the Mid-South, where she played a key role in its recent transformations in fundraising and grant-making.
The CMOM has an annual operating budget of $3.6 million. Funds are generated by private contributions (42.9 percent) and earned income (57.1 percent).
“That’s a nice balance,” Butler said. “I’ve worked around nonprofits enough to know that getting earned revenue up is very difficult.”
As part of the expansion, the Children’s Museum of Memphis is aiming to further increase earned income by making use of space for special events, including corporate meetings and weddings.
“Once the decision was made to restore the carousel, which was the one you saw at the Fairgrounds and Libertyland, we needed a place to house that and it also gave the museum an opportunity to provide meeting space and gathering space and event space,” Butler said. “My vision is to use this to open the museum up to the community.”
Butler says she also likes what National Civil Rights Museum president Terri Lee Freeman has done, by making the venue a place for discussions about race in the community.
Said Butler: “I want this museum to be a town square for early childhood education.”